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10/02/03 . Bruce Horovitz . USA TODAY . USA  
McDonald's plans big overhaul for image  
McDonald's is about to begin a sweeping, global effort to lift its image out from under the burger grease.  

Days after an often-heated, three-day meeting with its worldwide roster of ad agencies, the fast-food giant has opted to take the offensive to repair its scarred image and boost the impact of its ads.

The company founded on the premise of providing food and atmosphere that make consumers smile has seen too many frowns lately. Consumers have complained about the quality of the food and service.

Now, the new leaders will attempt parallel efforts to improve product quality and marketing impact.

The move comes as McDonald's restaurant owners have voted to pull the Big N' Tasty from the Dollar Menu. They say the promotion costs them money with each sale and want to substitute the cheaper double-cheeseburger. Later this month, they are expected to vote on dumping the Dollar Menu idea.

But last week's marketing summit with 14 agencies from 10 countries was all about message, not product. Company executives warned agencies that ads soon will be measured country by country not just for awareness but also for likability.

''We want favorite advertising,'' says Larry Light, global chief marketing officer. He did not specify how the measurement process would take place.

The company once widely known for ads that touch the heart concedes it has lost its message. ''We became too cautious and too careful,'' Light says.

Some experts say McDonald's should wait on a new message until other problems are solved. ''You can't market your way out of an operations problem,'' says John Glass, analyst at CIBC World Markets. ''There's clearly a crisis internally about what's the right message to promote now.''

McDonald's needs a message that doesn't change every six months, analysts say. But first, they add, it needs to improve the products -- and the look of the stores it sells them in. ''I'd fix the food first before I messed with the message,'' says Katharine Paine, a corporate image consultant. ''At the moment, they're a victim of their past messages about good food served hot and fast -- which are no longer true.'  
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